By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Someone driving into Enid Friday night might have seen a man walking along Owen K. Garriott Road, carrying a delicately-rolled piece of paper.
He wore vinyl gloves to keep clean from the water-flour mixture he uses in place of glue.
Then, in the span of less than a minute, he hurried from his car toward a hefty power pole near the Heritage Center, where he slapped on what’s become a familiar face around Enid: a stenciled outline of a Lego-person holding a picket sign.
“WE ARE ENID!” the sign boasts.
‘That’s the mystique’
His community-wide project already is more than two years old, but the man behind Enid Lego Builder still gets an adrenaline rush from his nighttime art drops.
Someone could see him, of course. They could recognize him, this married father with a good day job and a nighttime hobby.
“I hope not,” The Builder said, imagining a day when his real identity is made public. “That’s the mystique, I think.”
Still, there’s a part of him that wants to come out. The artist sometimes will visit friends’ homes — friends who don’t know about his alter ego — and they start showing off their various ELB pieces. In that moment, it’s the mystical lore of a local art-bandit that keeps his mouth shut.
“The neighbors don’t know who I am. My own friends don’t know who I am,” he said. “That’s the fun.”
The Builder doesn’t want personal fame. That’s why only about seven people know his true identity.
“I know I have a public warrant on my back. I hate to say it: Let them hunt for me. Either they’re going to find a magnet, or they’re going to find a guy doing it,” he said.
He granted interviews with the Enid News & Eagle on the condition of anonymity, citing his desire to keep the mystique alive.
And he’s no Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, hiding behind a mask for protection from the authorities. In fact, he’s been in touch with Enid Police Chief Brian O’Rourke, mainly to stay ahead of any unwanted police inquiry.
City Manager Eric Benson also knows of him. It makes sense to be friendly with city officials when you’re pasting art on their property, the logic goes.
The art project began about two and a half years ago, when someone said they didn’t know who Garriott was. Others said they thought he was a politician; one person was sure he was a former mayor, The Builder said.
He saw an opportunity to educate the public, albeit in a passive way. His first nighttime run saw seven broad sheets of paper stenciled with a flattened, black and white image of Garriott’s official NASA photo. They went up on signal boxes along the astronaut’s namesake road.
On that first night, and on his last poster, The Builder saw a man staring at him from a nearby intersection. The Builder finished his work and the man came tearing through the parking lot. He got out of his car, showed a police badge and demanded to know what the artist was doing.
“I’m telling people about the history of Enid,” he replied.
The Builder got out of the incident without a ticket, but with a tacit threat to avoid leaving permanent art on city property.
“The cop said it to me, but I knew in the back of my head I could take it down,” The Builder said.
Critics and artists
He’s faced some criticism from the public about the art, even though all but two of his remaining stencils washed away with rain or were pulled down by zealous fans. He’s puzzled about those two posters along Garriott that still haven’t disappeared.
Some call his art graffiti, a label he vehemently opposes.
“A lot of people miss the point right away,” he said. “I’m not just some punk kid.”
His art draws allusions to the works of Banksy, an English artist who spray-paints poignant and sometimes harsh messages on walls around the world.
“I hate being called Enid’s Banksy,” he said, shunning the political statements.
The art is a reflection of his love. With each magnet and stencil, the Enid Lego Builder hopes to inspire that love of the city in others.
“Mainly, I did it for public awareness. It frustrated me that people complained in this town that there’s nothing to do,” he said. “This town is a diamond surrounded by wheat.”
Guerrilla street art seems more fit for a major metropolitan downtown, which lends credibility to the public’s surprise of The Builder’s project — Enid is known more for its agriculture and aviation history than for its creative class.
“I hate to say it, but Enid’s not the culture club of Oklahoma. But there is an aspiring art movement here in town,” he said.
The Art Lab, The Felt Bird and Privation Printing all have captured a part of the Enid Lego Builder craze, and have helped push the art out to the public. There are keychains (currently sold out) and T-shirts of the ELB image.
Here in the plains of western Oklahoma, The Builder’s popularity shuns the stereotype that an artistic Generation X-er or Millennial can only operate in friendly territory, and that only those accustomed to street art can truly appreciate it.
“I don’t think people thought that there’d be a person in their town, sitting in their studio, making Lego-man heads one afternoon for people to go hunt,” he said.
He’s out there
Even though his true identity is only known to the few he reveals it to, The Builder has had some close calls.
One night during a magnet hunt, where stenciled, magnet-backed wooden pieces are hidden across town, The Builder noticed a single person scurrying to each location and snagging them before anyone else could.
On the last piece, he saw the same car pull up.
“So I got out of my car and I ran across the street, and I snatched it up right in front of the person,” he said.
Just then, an elderly couple with two young children arrived — they also were on the hunt and were disappointed that they missed out.
“I said, ‘Here, have this one.’ And I gave it to them,” he said. “It made me chuckle that these people pulled up; they were upset they didn’t get a magnet.
“I gave them the magnet I ‘found,’ but I was The Builder, giving it to a person.”
Now, he asks that families limit their haul to just one magnet.
There also has been criticism of The Builder from those who think he works for the city.
“I’ve been called a figment of (city of) Enid propaganda. It’s kinda hilarious,” he said. “No one’s pushing me. No one’s holding the spray can to my head, telling me to support Enid.”
In fact, the city only recently recognized the impact he’s had. In a mayoral proclamation approved by the city commission a week ago, Enid commended his “remarkable selflessness” in staying anonymous and his efforts to encourage participation in local events and businesses.
Because of that proclamation, May 6, 2013, officially was recognized as Enid Lego Builder Day.